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AGGRESSIVE behaviour by dogs is the most frequent behaviour problem reported to veterinary behaviour clinics (Bamberger and Houpt 2006, Fatjo and others 2007). The behaviour is a serious problem for the victims (Weiss and others 1998) and for the animals themselves, since it often reflects a negative underlying emotional state, especially if associated with pain (Bamberger and Houpt 2006, Hsu and Sun 2010). Pain may lower the dog's general threshold for aggressive behaviour, while also encouraging specific aggressive displays as part of a protective/defensive response (Rutherford 2002, Muir and others 2004, Landsberg and others 2013). Beaver (1983) has suggested that more than a quarter (28.2 per cent) of dogs exhibiting aggression do so because of a medical condition, including pain, but pain-related aggression has been considered to account for only a small per cent of the total caseload in behaviour clinics, that is, 2–3.3 per cent (Beaver 1983, Borchelt 1983). However, when pain is identified, the data from Beaver (1983) suggest the prognosis is excellent, with all cases in her case review reported to have a successful treatment outcome. A recent small case series of aggressive dogs with a pain focus indicated that musculoskeletal pain from hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis of the elbow was the main cause of pain, occurring in 75 per cent (nine of 12 cases) of these cases (Camps and others 2012).
There is a lack of specific or detailed description of the presentation of pain-related behaviour problems in companion animals, despite the value that this information would have in evaluating differential diagnoses and further assessment priorities, especially for veterinarians in general practice if referral to a non-veterinary behaviourist is being considered. Qualitative research can help to answer broad questions that might inform clinical judgement, such as ‘are there recurring themes …
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